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- My Life, Volume I - 107/107 -

time to celebrate my thirty-seventh birthday on the twenty-second of May. The mother, Frau Julie, particularly made a deep impression upon me. I had only met her once before in Dresden, when Karl had invited me to be present at the performance of a quartette of his own composition, given at his mother's house. On this occasion the respect and devotion shown me by each member of the family had delighted me. The mother had hardly spoken to me, but when I was leaving she was moved to tears as she thanked me for my visit. I was unable to understand her emotion at the time, but now when I reminded her of it she was surprised, and explained that she had felt so touched at my unexpected kindness to her son.

She and her daughter remained with us about a week. We sought diversion in excursions to the beautiful Valais, but did not succeed in dispelling Frau Hitter's sadness of heart, caused by the knowledge of recent events of which she had now been informed, as well as by her anxiety at the course my life was taking. As I afterwards learned, it had cost the nervous, delicate woman a great effort to undertake this journey, and when I urged her to leave her house to come and settle in Switzerland with her family, so that we might all be united, she at last pointed out to me that in proposing what seemed to her such an eccentric undertaking, I was counting upon a strength and energy she no longer possessed. For the present she commended her son, whom she wished to leave with me, to my care, and gave me the necessary means to keep us both for the time being. Regarding the state of her fortune, she told me that her income was limited, and now that it was impossible to accept any help from the Laussots, she did not know how she would be able to come to my assistance sufficiently to assure my independence. Deeply moved, we took leave of this venerable woman at the end of a week, and she returned to Dresden with her daughter, and I never saw her again.

Still bent upon discovering a means of disappearing from the world, I thought of choosing a wild mountain spot where I could retire with Karl. For this purpose we sought the lonely Visper Thal in the canton Valais, and not without difficulty made our way along the impracticable roads to Zermatt. There, at the foot of the colossal and beautiful Matterhorn, we could indeed consider ourselves cut off from the outer world. I tried to make things as comfortable as I could in this primitive wilderness, but discovered only too soon that Karl could not reconcile himself to his surroundings. Even on the second day he owned that he thought it horrid, and suggested that it would be more pleasant in the neighbourhood of one of the lakes. We studied the map of Switzerland, and chose Thun for our next destination. Unfortunately I again found myself reduced to a state of extreme nervous fatigue, in which the slightest effort produced a profuse and weakening perspiration. Only by the greatest strength of will was I able to make my way out of the valley; but at last we reached Thun, and with renewed courage engaged a couple of modest but cheerful rooms looking out on to the road, and proposed to wait and see how we should like it. In spite of the reserve which still betrayed his shyness of character, I found conversation with my young friend always pleasant and enlivening. I now realised the pitch of fluent and overflowing vivacity to which the young man could attain, particularly at night before retiring to rest, when he would squat down beside my bed, and in the agreeable, pure dialect of the German Baltic provinces, give free expression to whatever had excited his interest. I was exceedingly cheered during these days by the perusal of the Odyssey, which I had not read for so long and which had fallen into my hands by chance. Homer's long-suffering hero, always homesick yet condemned to perpetual wandering, and always valiantly overcoming all difficulties, was strangely sympathetic to me. Suddenly the peaceful state I had scarcely yet entered upon was disturbed by a letter which Karl received from Mine. Laussot. He did not know whether he ought to show it to me, as he thought Jessie had gone mad. I tore it out of his hand, and found she had written to say that she felt obliged to let my friend know that she had been sufficiently enlightened about me to make her drop my acquaintance entirely. I afterwards discovered, chiefly through the help of Frau Ritter, that in consequence of my letter and my arrival in Bordeaux, M. Laussot, together with Mrs. Taylor, had immediately taken Jessie to the country, intending to remain there until the news was received of my departure, to accelerate which he had applied to the police authorities. While they were away, and without telling her of my letter and my journey, they had obtained a promise from the young woman to remain quiet for a year, give up her visit to Dresden, and, above all, to drop all correspondence with me; since, under these conditions, she was promised her entire freedom at the end of that time, she had thought it better to give her word. Not content with this, however, the two conspirators had immediately set about calumniating me on all sides, and finally to Mine. Laussot herself, saying that I was the initiator of this plan of elopement. Mrs. Taylor had written to my wife complaining of my intention to commit adultery, at the same time expressing her pity for her and offering her support; the unfortunate Minna, who now thought she had found a hitherto unsuspected reason for my resolve to remain separated from her, wrote back complaining of me to Mrs. Taylor. The meaning of an innocent remark I had once made had been strangely misinterpreted, and matters wore now aggravated by making it appear as though I had intentionally lied. In the course of playful conversation Jessie had once told me that she belonged to no recognised form of religion, her father Having teen a member of a certain sect which did not baptise either according to the Protestant or the Roman Catholic ritual; whereupon I had comforted her by assuring her that I had come in contact with much more questionable sects, as shortly after my marriage in Konigsberg I had learned that it had been solemnised by a hypocrite. God alone knows in what form this had been repeated to the worthy British matron, but, at all events, she told my wife that I had said I was 'not legally married to her.' In any case, my wife's answer to this had no doubt furnished further material with which to poison Jessie's mind against me, and this letter to my young friend was the result. I must admit that, seen by this light, the circumstance at which I felt most indignant was the way my wife had been treated, and while I was perfectly indifferent as to what the rest of the party thought of me, I immediately accepted Karl's offer to go to Zurich and see her, so as to give her the explanation necessary to her peace of mind. While awaiting his return, I received a letter from Liszt, telling me of the deep impression made upon him by my Lohengrin score, which had caused him to make up his mind as to the future in store for me. He at the same time announced that, as I had given him the permission to do so, he intended doing all in his power to bring about the production of my opera at the forthcoming Herder festival in Weimar. About this time I also heard from Frau Ritter, who, in consequence of events of which she was well aware, thought herself called upon to beg me not to take the matter too much to heart. At this moment Karl also returned from Zurich, and spoke with great warmth of my wife's attitude. Not having found me in Paris, she had pulled herself together with remarkable energy, and in pursuance of an earlier wish of mine, had rented a house on the lake of Zurich, installed herself comfortably, and remained there in the hope of at last hearing from me again. Besides this, he had much to tell me of Sulzer'a good sense and friendliness, the latter having stood by, my wife and shown her great sympathy. In the midst of his narrative Karl suddenly exclaimed, 'Ah! these could be called sensible people; but with such a mad Englishwoman nothing could be done.' To all this I said not a word, but finally with a smile asked him whether he would like to go over to Zurich? He sprang up exclaiming, 'Yes, and as soon as possible.' 'You shall have your way,' said I; 'let us pack. I can see no sense in anything either here or there.' Without breathing another syllable about all that had happened, we left the next day for Zurich.


My Life, Volume I - 107/107

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